Three Special Cities along Japan’s lengthy North to South Tips
Hokkaido to Okinawa is a distance of roughly 3000km (1864 miles). In Hokkaido you’ll find Japan’s coldest point while the Okinawan islands average more than 15 degrees Celsius year-round. And did you know that sakura bloom in Kyushu in mid-March, almost two months earlier than Hokkaido in early May? Aside from their climate and nature, the history and culture between these two extremities is richly diverse.
There are three stops on this tour:Sapporo – the central city of Hokkaido’s wide plains. Matsumoto – a castle town at the foot of the Japanese alps in Nagano Prefecture.Kagoshima – known for its samurai spirit and as a birthplace of modern industry. With Fuji Dream Airlines (FDA) and one bullet train you can reach all three cities directly.
Sapporo’s harmony of natural and urban landscapes
First stop – Sapporo.
With a population of 1.9 million, Sapporo is a rare example of a larger city thriving in a snow belt. Indeed, in 1972 Sapporo became the first Asian city to host the Winter Olympics. Winter brings almost daily snowfalls, piling up to 6m (232 inches) yearly, and with it 2.6 million visitors. Winter sports and early February’s Sapporo Snow Festival are main draws.
There are six ski slopes within driving proximity of the city center, making day trips easy. You don’t need to bring any gear – you can rent everything. Best of all, you can ski until early May and then come down and enjoy the cherry blossoms.
Aside from the city’s daytime white wonderland, Sapporo is ranked as one of Japan’s three best cities for incredible night views. There are several great spots to check out. Ascend the JR Tower next to JR Sapporo station to get a panoramic view of Sapporo 160m (approx. 562ft.) in the air. Couples might want ride Susukino district’s huge Ferris wheel to get a different perspective. Want to go higher? Ride the cable car up to Mt. Moiwa and get a stunning view of the entire city and further out to Ishikari Bay from a height of 531m (approx. 1742ft.).
Hokkaido’s industrious vegetable, dairy and fishing industries provide a wealth of delicious ingredients. Fresh produce from across Hokkaido makes its way to Sapporo’s “Shoku no Machi” (“Gourmet Avenue”), a foodie area famous across Japan. From trendy soup curry to “Genghis Khan” lamb barbecue feasts, Hokkaido offers a diversely original menu.
Foodies will love Sapporo’s wide array of seasonal culinary events. 2017’s must-visits are spring’s Lilac Festival (5/17~5/28), summer’s Odori Beer Garden (7/20~8/17) and fall’s Autumn Festival (9/08~9/30).
The Precious Culture & Nature of Matsumoto
Second stop – Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. A direct flight from New Chitose Airport outside of Sapporo to Matsumoto airport takes only 90 minutes, offering an incredible birds eye view of the Japanese alps.
Take a half-hour bus ride from the airport to the symbol of Matsumoto City – Matsumoto Castle. This 16th century “National Treasure of Japan” is also Japan’s oldest castle. The impressive black and white exterior appears to have five floors, but there are in fact six. From the top floor you can see the alps to the east and the Utsukushi-ga-hara Highlands to the west.
Matsumoto Castle in the spring is particularly gorgeous, with over 320 cherry blossom trees on the grounds. Beginning in early April, both the castle and surrounding sakura are illuminated at night, creating a magical “hanami” experience. With snow still blanketing the alps in May, two Shidarezakura (weeping cherry trees) blossom near the castle.
Matsumoto is famous for emphasizing both avant-garde and traditional art. Worldwide fans of Yayoi Kusama’s polka dot world will want to check out the permanent exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art.
If you visit Matsumoto you’ll want to take a side trip to the elevated natural beauty of Kamikochi 1500m (approx. 1921ft.) above sea level. Only a 90-minute bus ride from JR Matsumoto station, you’ll feel purified by the limpid waters of Azusagawa River and Myojin Pond.
Samurai Spirit Remains in People Living in Volcanic Kagoshima City
Third stop – Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture. A direct flight from Matsumoto Airport to Fukuoka Airport, followed by a bullet train ride from JR Hakata station, brings you to Kagoshima. The city’s approximately 600,000 residents have long co-existed with Sakurajima volcano, counting the blessings of its hot springs and radish crops cultivated on the volcanic plateau.
Sakurajima is a short 15-minute ferry ride from the city. Once there, it’s best to take the Sakurajima Island View bus tour. Getting close to an active volcano is an unforgettable experience! On the way back, enjoy a heated foot bath and pick up some souvenirs at the Sakurajima Visitor Center.
With a view of Kinko Bay and Sakurajima, the Sengan-en Garden (also known as Iso Teien) was designed in the 12th century as the cottage grounds of the Shimazu clan, who ruled the Satsuma domain (former name of Kagoshima). The gardens embody the simplicity and courageous power of the samurai.Additionally, it was in this area that Western technology was first introduced to Japan, playing a critical role in the Meiji revolution (around 1868) and Japan’s modernization. The garden and its buildings have been desingated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As for local cuisine, Kagoshima’s “black pork” and the seafood caught in Kinko Bay are coveted dishes across Japan. Other delicacies include brown sugar confectionaries and Kagoshima’s particular recipe for satsuma-age (a fried cake of minced fish and vegetables).
Now that you know the diverse natural and cultural charm of these three incredibly different cities, why not book a tour?